Five dice showing 4, 5, 5, 2, 6

Doubles and Lonely Dice

This is the description I found on the troll dice roller website about a novel dice mechanic. An anonymous person was experimenting with an idea for a GURPS magic system using the site. The mechanic was documented this way:

Experiment with a custom magic-system in GURPS using HP as blood sacrifice, using 2-10 d6.
Doubles, triplets and above count as their value, lonely dice only add +1 per dice.
a roll with 5 dice [4,5,5,2,6] will make 1+5+5+1+1=13.

I immediately played with various numbers of dice and wrote scripts for d8s, d10s, and d12s. Yet after all that, I was drawn to 5d6. It reminded me of Dice Throne and ultimately Yahtzee. I had to admit that I was drawn to this idea using 5d6 because of the endless games of Yahtzee and Kismet I played as a kid. That shared memory makes this dice mechanic feel intuitive through repetition.

This is the point where my co-worker would say that my Nerd is showing.

When I began looking at the probabilities, however, it inspired me for possibilities in my home game with the kids, retroclones, and various other games. For the curious, here's a handy table.

At this point, my co-worker would use their teacher voice and talk about all the work they need to do.

The next few posts are going to explore how this dice mechanic can be used in 5e and other role-playing games. It not only provides an interesting sub-system, but it can be a part of the world-building. Specifically, I'm going to look at using this to build a bolt-on and hopefully simple way to make magic different.

Autonomous Biomechanical Entity

I read a post on Twitter that stirred the brain to new possibilities:

With only one stat, I scribbled a few ideas trying to make the concept work. Keying in on the word energy, I thought that the player's character should be an android of some kind.

I was also afraid of getting bogged down into endless ability and equipment lists. I was determined to write down the idea and just get to the point.

After a 45 minute sprint, the game became the character creation rules that focused on six simple things:

  • Orientation
  • One Stat
  • One Roll
  • Three Skills
  • Five Things
  • Endless Possibilities

Orientation set up the fiction. To keep the rules concise and prevent veering off into world-building minutiae, I decided that the fiction had to be stated in two sentences. In A.B.E., your character is an artificial life form that can pass as a biological creature. Your character has an overwhelming desire to find its creator(s).

The One Stat became Energy. Everything your character does costs one energy point. Damage can cost more energy. It can be refreshed at certain times. Characters start with 100 Energy and can gain more as they learn more about their history.

The One Roll because rolling d% under, but not equal to, the Energy stat. Early in the game, rolls are easy, but as your character take actions or avoids danger, the rolls because more difficult. It's an elegant little system.

Three Skills began as a large list of skills in multiple categories. There were skills for computers, fisticuffs, tactics, artificial intelligences, magic and many more. There was no way that I wanted to be sidetracked into this much detail.

Desperate for a way out, I remembered a White Star game I ran years ago. I had a friend that was brand new to rpgs. He explained what he wanted his character to be and that he wanted a trademark or gimmick that made him different. I decided on an item his character possessed that had three distinct abilities. However, instead of detailing them, I simply asked that he let me know what those abilities were as we were playing. The rules was that once he explained three abilities, the item was locked to those three. My character was thrilled and that item, a pair of gloves, ended up being the most awesome thing about the campaign.

Thinking back on that item, it became clear: the character is the special item, so let the player determine the three abilities as play progresses. If necessary, the character can start with one. Awesome! Skills boiled down to a paragraph.

Five Things originally began as an encumbrance system and endless equipment lists. I like these lists because they are tiny descriptors of the game world. Like Three Skills, though, I realized that I was getting bogged down again, so a similar rule developed that the character could have only up to five things at any given time. Unlike skills, though, these five things were not permanent. A character could drop an item and never pick it up again, leaving a space for a new thing.

That left Endless Possibilities. It was this section that defined two smaller ideas of parameters and limitations. Parameters set expectations by defining the game world in broad strokes:

  • Is there magic?
  • What technology level is the game world?
  • Are there other A.B.E.s?
  • Is this a human world, mostly human world, or alien locale?

There are more, but the idea is to sketch out, with the players preferably, what this world was like. If they are the only known A.B.E. that is significant to how the character is played. If there is no magic, then part of the game can be the character learning how they were made. The number of parameters should be small as the goal is set the stage for where the action will happen.

Limitations come from the idea that constraint applied to a fiction forces it to become more creative. These should be three to five statements that serve as laws of the land. For example:

  • An A.B.E. cannot intentionally harm a human being.
  • An A.B.E. must recharge itself every ten hours.
  • Magic requires lengthy incantations and expensive materials.
  • Clockwork technology requires a central golden gear to function properly.
  • Time travel can only go forward in time except for the extra-dimensional creatures attempting to deactivate the character.

After typing it up and posting a link to Google Drive, it occurred to me that generated a few game worlds would be fun. I wanted to create something small and streamlined like the rules.

To achieve this, I decided to make Scenario Packs that provide parameters, limitations, and story seeds to allow players to dive into action quickly. They would restate the rules so that each pack could stand alone, but since the entire rules are one page, that doesn't take up too much space.

I'll post more about the Scenario Packs in another post.

This Old Sword

I began a podcast in April to talk about older versions of D&D, game ideas, and a lot of RPG things. I will soon post links to individual episodes with notes here.

Just like I have Paper Pills on this site for incomplete ideas, I have a feature called Paper Bullets for incomplete ideas there.

I am grateful for the very supportive OSR Anchorite group. Feel free to let me know what you think.